Surry County Parks and Recreation Director Daniel White was recently on the receiving end of trick play that took him by surprise.
Last weekend he was asked to travel to Durham to speak at a Special Olympics North Carolina conference. He said that this was the first of these types of conferences since well before the pandemic.
White had not been planning to attend nor registered for the event, but when asked to speak he agreed, saying it is in his nature to try and help when and where he can.
While the conference was real, his invitation to speak was a ruse.
At the conference White was presented with the Special Olympics North Carolina Organization of the Year award for Surry County’s Special Olympics programming.
White said he is proud of the group’s efforts but always wants to remind people that the Special Olympics is more than just one day of games — it is a year-round endeavor designed to provide a better quality of life for those athletes in this area.
The association with Special Olympics has been a rewarding one for White, who said he is passionate about the program. The quality of the athletes on the field or court is rivaled only by their indomitable spirit, he said. “The athlete is why we do this. If other people had the faith and heart of these athletes, the world would be a better place. It’s an honor to work with these athletes.”
He said the association with North Carolina Special Olympics has benefited all residents of the county with improvements to Fisher River Park such as bocce ball courts that were funded in part by the state group “All citizens benefit from that.”
At the ceremony, White was pleasantly surprised when he was presented with the award that it was given to him by Alan Oliver, “Who was the parks and rec director I grew up with. He even called me one of his kids for having grown up in his programs.”
After graduating from Appalachian State, White said it was Oliver who gave him valuable advice and guidance. For White to come full circle and be presented the award from Oliver seemed apt.
“Although it was presented to me, it was more than just me who deserves this award,” White said Wednesday. Perhaps it was best that he was on stage alone as he admitted his emotions got him and he “cried like a baby when Alan presented it to me.”
White said the athletes who compete are the real deal and give it their all. One of the mantras of the state organization is, “Special Olympics is real sports.” He pointed to local competitors such as Jared Watts and one hundred medal winner Neil Joyner as a testament to that notion.
White takes a great deal of pride in the work he and Surry County Parks and Recreation have done and the services the group provides. He noted that when he accepted the job, he had a reputation for being a rolling stone, so to speak. He was asked how long he may stay in Surry County and predicted a stay of 3-5 years. Thirteen years later White is still engaged and passionate about the county’s programs and expanding them even further.
“It’s a blessing to be part of something that is greater,” White said. He means more than just a job at parks though, his something greater includes the people of Surry County and the “God Equity” found in having two mountain ranges and four navigable rivers — a dream to a former park ranger such as White.
“I tell people that the community sold me on this job, not the other way around. It’s a rarity in today’s world to find people who say please and thank you, or hold the door,” he said.
For Surry County Special Olympics to be recognized in such a way was meaningful to White, “It’s an honor and a blessing.”